Upfronts 2022: AMC Doubles Down on Digital Strategy with New FAST Channels
Branded content unit sets slate of digital series tied to popular series and personalities
At its upfront presentation in Manhattan Wednesday evening, AMC Networks is doubling down on its digital strategy.
The programmer is creating new free ad-supported streaming (FAST) TV channels to carry its programming, producing digital companion series based on its most popular show and personalities and offering innovative ways for advertisers to engage viewers.
The digital strategy comes as cord-cutting is eroding viewership of traditional cable channels like AMC’s AMC Networks, IFC, BBC America, WE tv and Sundance TV. AMC’s advertising revenues rose 5% to $845 million. The company said the increase reflected ad-supported streaming growth, partially offset by lower linear ratings.
Also: AMC Networks Bringing Back Bob Odenkirk, ‘Orphan Black’
AMC’s upfront is also one of the first in-person events after COVID-19 wiped out such presentations in 2020 and 2021.
“I feel really excited to see people I’ve only seen on the screen for the last two years,” Kim Kelleher, president of commercial revenue and partnerships at AMC Networks told Broadcasting+Cable. “Looking at the RSVPs, it looks like we’re not alone in that feeling. The response has been very strong.”
The event is being held at The Peak on a Hudson Yards rooftop where advertisers and media buyers will drink and dine with talent from AMC. MC Lyte from WE tv’s Growing Up Hip Hop will DJ and a special performance is promised.
“We’re taking this year to new heights, said Kim Granito, executive VP of the Content Room and integrated marketing. “We felt like this venue takes, you know, literally takes our clients to new heights.”
Staying Focused on Quality
AMC wants to continue to define itself as a home for quality content. “We’re going to be focusing on a content slate that I think is going to knock your socks off," Kelleher said.
In this upfront AMC will be selling the last part of the last season of the original The Walking Dead, a show that generated a big chuck of the company’s ratings points and ad revenue. But it will also be giving sponsors a first look at what it hopes will be its next big thing, the Anne Rice universe of vampire tales.
It also announced greenlighting a new series from the Orphan Black universe and said it is developing a new show starring Bob Odenkirk, who has already appeared as the same character in two of AMC’s most indelible hits, Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.
But on its business side, AMC has been expanding its digital distribution as part of its viewers first strategy.
“We are trying to serve our content in a consistent, reliable and identifiable way across all the different platforms people are consuming on,” Kelleher said. “We just want to make sure we can meet them there with a quality that they’ve come to expect from our brands.”
AMC has already launched eight channels on FAST platforms and is set to launch another six in the next few months.
The new channels are AMC en Español, featuring Spanish-language versions of such hits as The Walking Dead, Rectify and Halt and Catch Fire; ALLBLK Gems, with shows from AMC’s ALLBLK subscription service, including originals like Double Cross and My Mane Problem; HiDive x Anime featuring series from Japan; Shorts, billed as the first FAST channel dedicated to short films; Cortos, featuring short films in Spanish; and Overtime, featuring original series featuring sports stars on and off the court produced by Brooklyn-based Overtime.
To help monetize all this digital viewing, AMC is expanding its palette of advanced ad formats by launching TEAL, which stands for Technology Enabled, Audience Led.
New ad formats include TEAL Shoppable, TEAL Interactive, TEAL Integrations (digitally inserted post-production), TEAL Takeover (which gives a client ad ownership across the company’s digital library) and TEAL Exclusive (presenting content with limited commercial interactions).
The first TEAL campaign will appear in an original series from AMC’s branded content unit Content Room, Show Me More: Killing Eve, which will include shoppable ads from Coco De Mer and Hunter Boots.
“These types of products are native to digital, but not always scalable across digital distribution,” said Evan Adlman, senior VP of advanced advertising and digital partnerships at AMC Networks.
Adlman said each distributor operates with different technology platforms, which meant a lot of work had to be done to make sure the TEAL features worked for all viewers.
“A big part of our effort was making sure that these products could be built and scaled across all end points,” he said. For example, people who respond to shoppable ads need to be able to purchase the products.
AMC’s Content Room has a full slate of original series it is producing, built as companions to popular AMC series or favorite actors from AMC shows.
The lineup includes You Are Here, a travel show hosted by Colman Domingo of Fear the Walking Dead and Bottomless Brunch at Colman's, one of the first successful originals from the Content Room; Know a Guy; Obsessed with the Vampire, a post-show for Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire; The Night Island, another Anne Rice universe show about a resort island catering to vampires and mortals produced with Mark Johnson, who is overseeing AMC’s Anne Rice franchise; Managing Brat, a series following Da Brat and Jesseca “Judy” Dupart, stars of Brat Loves Judy on WE tv and ALLBLK; Show Me More, with backstage looks at AMC Networks’ series; and Can We Talk About This? hosted by Jordan Carlos.
“We feel like we’ve learned a lot and have doubled down on what works,” said Granito.
Production is going forward on the shows even without sponsors signed up for them, she said.
Kelleher said that AMC can distribute those shows and monetize them on digital platforms including FAST channels, subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) and ad-supported VOD (AVOD).
“We are fairly certain that they are not only going to be fan favorites and viewed, but advertising supported. And they will get the Integrations and the sponsorships that we're looking for,” she said.
Kelleher said she was bullish going into this upfront market.
“I’m actually feeling great about the conversations that we’re having,” she said.
“I feel good about the offering that we’re bringing to market,” Kelleher added. “We spent a lot of time making sure we can do what we say. Everyone is looking for new frontier real estate, and I think that that approach really has helped position AMC strongly, going into the marketplace, for innovation.”
In last year’s upfront, traditional media companies saw as much as 40% of their sales come from digital products. Kelleher said that number will grow as digital viewing increases.
AMC isn’t letting controversy over measurement and currencies slow down its digital expansion or its addressable advertising offerings.
“We will primarily still be transacting on Nielsen, but we have a number of pilots and test-and-learns [with other measurement companies] that we’re also leaning into,” Kelleher said. “Like everybody, we just want transparency, reliability and consistency.” ■
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Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.
By Kent Gibbons